Posts Tagged ‘polynesian’

Aloha! I’ve been working non-stop since getting back from New Orleans and Texas and haven’t posted anything to my blog for a bit. To make up for it, here are some recent finished tattoos and other items. Yesterday the North Hawaii News included me in an article about the renaissance of Polynesian tattoo happening in the islands (and all over the world), for which I am truly humbled.

Here are some pics of some recent work. Please hit up my site to see more work. Peace!

10857747_10205550023651623_1619696318369153842_n 10858635_10205552780320538_167020309872669925_n 1601239_10205419250702381_6165789477089523141_n 10432128_10205461268192792_6079387905390764181_n 10429245_10205445565200227_2529570174795465231_n

When I started out doing research for my book, Fundamentals of Traditional and Modern Polynesian Tattoo, back in 2011, I stumbled across something quite unexpected: I discovered my Zen.

But before I get into what that meant, and how it defined me as a person and as an artist, I need to briefly explain why I decided to write the book in the first place.

As a 6th generation Polynesian and practitioner of Polynesian tattoo, I found that the resources out there on the subject of Polynesian tattoo, was lacking. Sure, there are plenty of books with pictures of beautiful Polynesian tattoo work. There are even books that go so far as to explain a bit about the culture(s), both ancient and modern. But I was looking for something more than just pretty pictures: I needed to know the meanings behind the images and motifs.

No longer was I content on rehashing the twenty-odd motifs I was familiar with, that are used in most Polynesian tattoo performed today. My goal as an artist is to create unique, individualized pieces and I couldn’t do that by reusing the same images over and over again. This is how much of Polynesian tattoo is done today.

I found that many of the other artists here in Hawaii, and in other parts of Polynesia, were in fact, facing the same dilemma. Some were fine with the derivative regurgitation; others were not. But the general consensus was that such knowledge had been lost to time and therefore unknowable.

I found that this was not the true.

It took me 2 years to find the answers I was looking for; and the journey was wonderful, strange and ultimately extremely satisfying to me both as an artist and a human being. But what often happens when one goes looking for answers, happened to me: I ended up with more questions.

When I published the book in 2013, I was content with the research that I had done and was eager to get the book in print for an upcoming tattoo convention here in Hawaii. Still, I knew that there were some loose ends that I planned on revisiting at a future date. I did not plan on printing revised editions of the book with updated information, but instead, planned on publishing an addendum on my blog, that people could access for free.

This is the first of such attempts.

The greatest compliment bestowed upon me by the judges on Inkmaster (although the exchange was never aired) was that they were truly impressed by my commitment and dedication to my work as a tattoo artist. They said that because I took the time to understand my art and to write about it, this made me a stand out among other artists. I was truly humbled that they seemed to understand this about me, and I could tell that they were sincere with their words.

However, until that was said to me, I hadn’t attempted to separate what drove me to create art, from what made me an artist. These principles are one and the same to me; I know nothing else.

I want to understand as much as I can about everything that is out there. I crave knowledge. The funny thing is that the producers of the show, singled out this one particular trait and tried to turn it around and make me seem like I was a control freak, and that I had OCD. You know, because television.

Anyway, it’s this obsessive thirst for understanding that drives me, both as an artist and as a human being: this is my Zen. And it is this thirst that makes it impossible for me to walk away from something that I have created and not want to further improve upon it. Those loose ends I had mentioned earlier just kept getting a little more and more frayed in my mind until I finally had to do something about them!

I have been creating art for 35+ years. I was taught to paint classically, with oils and acrylics when I was 10 years old. My private teacher also taught me how to use pen and ink, charcoal, pastels and watercolor. When I took art in high school, my teacher told me that I didn’t need to come to his daily classes, that I should only take the final. He gave me a pass to the library instead. 🙂

What I’m trying to say is that art and life are one and the same for me. It is my breath, my life and everything in-between. I cannot turn it off, or turn it on for that matter; it just is. It is an obsession and an intrinsic part of my being. But more importantly, it is the darkness and it is the light.

But before I get into what exactly I’m rambling on about, I want to outline my intentions just incase any of you find this uninteresting and want to click away now.

It has been proposed by some people that contact between Asia and Central and South America occurred roughly 4500 years before the arrival of the Spanish on the Yucatan peninsula. Another proposition is that because of the similarities between Native American, Central and South American and Polynesian cultures, that somehow they are all related. What I discovered not only elaborates on these proposals but also adds another possible explanation to such questions.

However, little exists in the way of historical account for many of these cultures, for the simple reason that anything containing such information was either destroyed or lost to time. We can only speculate on the data that is there, and even then, a lot can be left open for interpretation. Like anything in life, those involved, scientists and layman alike, approach the subject with personal bias and often have their own agenda. My intention is not to advocate one outlook over another, nor is it to convert nonbelievers. I am merely presenting information that I have discovered. Any and all statements in regard to intention or causality, are strictly my own.

Now, to get on with the story.

Mata Hoata: the motif of the all-seeing eye

4 examples of mata hoata, without lower mouth section

4 examples of mata hoata, without lower mouth section

This Marquesan motif is one of the most dramatic looking in all of Polynesian tattoo. Appearances aside, the purpose of this motif is also one of the most fascinating uses of art on the human body by ancient man that I have come across.

I elaborate on this motif in my book as well as here on my blog. Mata hoata means, ‘all seeing-eye’ and is an analog for a face. The motif itself is a combination of 3 elements that make up the whole but it can also consist of the eyes only (mata) and still retain the same meaning and intention.

The top section consists of the eyes, which are a generally similar in design to one another. Although the eye shape and content may vary by artist the left eye, for example will be a mirrored reflection of the right.

The middle section consists of the nose, cheek and ear elements. Again, shape and embellishments will differ from artist to artist, but will retain the symmetry relative to itself.

The bottom section consists of the mouth portion, which is usually filled with teeth (niho). The same rules apply for the teeth as far as variation in regards to symmetry.

(4 examples of mata hoata, with mouth section)

4 examples of mata hoata, with lower mouth section

4 examples of mata hoata, with lower mouth section

In my book, I propose that a possible inspiration, muse or intention of this motif could have come from a crab. There are many species of crab in Polynesia and the layout of eyes, nose and mouth, so to speak, are a pretty good match for a crab face.


It was also put forth by early Russian and German explorers of the Marquesas that the mata hoata was a stylized rendition of an even earlier motif, mata komoe, or Death’s head. From what little visual information was available for mata komoe, I personally could not see the transition, nor do I believe that something referred to as, ‘Death’s head’, could come to mean, ‘all-seeing eye’. But the thing that really intrigued me was how much the mata hoata looked like a face that could be found on a totem pole or decorating a Maya temple. It would be easy to imagine such a design done in relief on wood or stone.



Native American totem

Native American totem

Stone face in Maya temple

Stone face in Maya temple

In my book I have also proposed that the shape of paka in a full body Polynesian tattoo, could have been inspired by Spanish or European armor. Animals, especially those with a shell or exoskeletal body, such as sea turtles and crabs, are possible candidates for inspiration as well. But one common thread remained, and continued to worm its way around in my head, and that was the possible Spanish connection.

I began by researching art of the Maya. It just seemed logical since the similarities that I noticed in artwork and textiles of Preclassic (1800BCE-200CE) Mesoamerica and Polynesia were too apparent to ignore. Not to mention the Spanish Conquistador angle.

What I came away with, in terms of similarities in cultural practices was curious and fascinating to say the least.

That being said, the biggest obstacle to overcome while doing any sort of research into the histories of ancient cultures is establishing an accurate timeline. What we know about such cultures, that we can claim as certainties, such as when a certain pyramid or piece of artwork was created, is not an exact science. With the use of radio-carbon dating and other such means we can get approximations at best. This is what makes anthropology such a highly contested field; filled with both tremendous accomplishments and catastrophic failures.

So, I decided to go ahead and create a timeline. It was then that I realized that I had just opened Pandora’s Box.

You see, a timeline is like a sponge: It just begs to be soaked with information. Once I began filling in the relevant information, I realized that the more data I input, the more it required.

I quickly understood that I could spend the rest of my life researching information for my timeline. It turns out that the further back in time you go, despite everything becoming more obscure, a very definite dispersal point of humanity and culture begins to emerge.

I didn’t want to go down that slippery slope, so instead, I chose to focus on a very specific point in time. That point was from the generally accepted time (although theoretical) when migratory peoples journeyed from the eastern coast of Asia to North America via the Bering Land Bridge, circa 13500BCE.

I also decided to keep my focus on the fringes of the eastern coast of Asia, Polynesia and the coast of western Central America, as well as concentrate on the dominant cultures in that area, at that time. Chinese culture was arguably the longest-lived and most technologically advanced, spanning the time period between 8000BCE to the Common Era, so I shifted the focus of my research to the Chinese, specifically that country’s maritime activities.

I ended up with this:



Needless to say, the Maya (and Mesoamerican) connection to Polynesian tattoo (although still totally relevant) had suddenly become a side story, as the major plot line began to unfold.

I’ll now explain what I’ve discovered by using the timeline (with bullet points), to keep everything flowing in a nice orderly manner. But don’t worry! I haven’t forgotten about the mata hoata…

13500BCE– This is the generally accepted time period (+/- 10-20K years) that has been proposed that peoples from the Asian continent began migrating toward the Americas, Australia and Oceania, by use of the Bering Land Bridge (North) and via Southern Asia, respectively.

Those traveling via Southern Asia, had previously settled in southern China and brought with them the development of rice agriculture, which created a population explosion.

Migration of man from Asia to the New World

Migration of man from Asia to the New World

7500BCE– This was the time that many have accepted as the definitive point when peoples of China began creating watercraft. It is merely an approximation, as most feel that the actual time of innovation could have taken place several thousands of years before.

5500BCE– A relic of a small wooden boat with oars was found in the Xiaoshan City in China. This finding confirmed, at the very least, that boat building had occurred or began in 7500BCE.

3000BCE– Pieces of broken pottery found in Ecuador have been dated to this time. The process by which the pottery was made, as well as artwork found on the pieces point to Asian origins, Japan in particular.

1800BCE– This is the accepted point in time when both the region of Polynesia began settlement (via Southern Asia) and the people who would become the Maya (see Olmec) began to settle in Central America (via North America). This is also the time when things get murky. 12000 years of migration, by foot and possibly by watercraft, points to a diffusion of multiple cultures in these areas that could influence indigenous culture (and art) essentially ruling out independent invention or discovery. In other words, Polynesians and Maya would produce art and be influenced by outside culture, and not necessarily create unique art (to themselves), but rather a blend of two or more cultures.

1600BCE- This is when the Shang Dynasty began in China. It marks a point in time when China was becoming technologically innovative and the matter of shipbuilding became more complex. This would be the time when ships capable of traveling across large expanses of water would have been nearing its peak.

This is also the time when the Lapita, a very obscure and short-lived Pacific culture, has been thought to exist. They are considered to be a common ancestor of contemporary cultures in Polynesia, Micronesia and Melanesia. They were best known for creating ceramics in the same manner of other Asian cultures as well as utilizing design elements on said pottery, that contain patterns and motifs found in modern Polynesian tattoo and textiles. Here is the region that they occupied and an example of their art.

Area that the Lapita occupied

Area that the Lapita occupied


Artwork from Lapita pottery that some have proposed is a dual plane rendition of a sea turtle

Artwork from Lapita pottery that some have proposed is a dual plane rendition of a sea turtle head-on

1500BCE– This point in time was when another obscure and relatively short-lived culture existed, this time across the Pacific, on the Yucatan peninsula. The date is given to artifacts found belonging to the Olmec culture. The Olmec were advanced both in technology and art and are believed to have been the progenitors of the Maya. They were believed to be responsible for creating the basis for the Maya calendar as well as the ritual ball game played by the Aztec.

Their sculpture, as you can plainly see, is very Asian in appearance and construction. Some masks even sport tattoos that look very similar to Maori moko.

It is important to note that the Olmec did not call themselves by this name (their true name is unknown); the name was what the Nahuatl (Aztec) called them, and meant “rubber people” or “people of the rubber country”. The term was used because the Olmec were adept at extracting latex from rubber trees (Castilla elastica).

As it turns out, the process of making rubber originated in Asia, specifically China via India.

Olmec mask

Olmec mask

Olmec mask

Olmec mask

Olmec scupture

Olmec sculpture

Olmec mask

Olmec mask

Olmec stone head sculpture

Olmec stone head sculpture

Olmec mask showing tattoo placement

Olmec mask showing tattoo placement

Maori moko design

Maori moko design

• 1050BCE– This is the time when the Shang Dynasty ended in China, and marks the beginning of the Zhou Dynasty.

It was after the fall of the Shang that the Chinese general, You Houxi led 250,000 troops to the South Pacific and the Americas, likely by and land and by sea. Such an influx of people and technology would have a tremendous impact on all of the cultures they happened upon. My feeling is that colonies had already been established in the South Pacific and the Americas, and that general Houxi was attempting to establish a connection to these places as a means of conquest or further proliferation.

• 500BCE– This point in time when it is believed that Lapita culture is thought to have disappeared, migrated or been assimilated.

• 400BCE– Marks one possible point in time when it is believed the Olmec may have disappeared, migrated or been assimilated.

• 256BCE– This is when the Zhou Dynasty came to an end.

• 20BCE– It was during this year that the practice of Polynesian specific tattoo has been thought to have began. Dating from tools and motifs lead to this conclusion. Even in the event that the practice began at an earlier or later date, the fact that tattoo as a cultural expression was already in use, dates as far back as Neolithic times (10000-8000BCE).

• 250CE– This is generally the accepted point in time when Maya civilization was at its peak. Culturally speaking, this would be when technology, art, building and stratification of the society would have reached its apex.

• 300CE– This date was put forth as another possible date that would have seen the decline of the Olmec, but as it comes after the peak of the Maya it is unlikely.

• 553CE– During the peak of Maya culture the usage of glyphs as a communicative device was perfected. Glyphs are basically a form of alphabet and were constructed in such a way that complex ideas could be conveyed. Glyph usage began in the 3rd and 4th centuries CE.

Maya glyph series

Maya glyph series

Maya glyphs on stone

Maya glyphs on stone

It is important to note that both the Chinese and the Maya used pictogram or ideogram based writing to create glyphs. This form of communication utilizes graphic symbols of objects to convey ideas or concepts, instead of letters. There are also similarities to how the glyphs were written and read, generally in vertical columns, from top to bottom.

• 700CE– This is the approximate time when Polynesian settlement is thought to have ended and independent cultural development began. This is just a theory, however, likely made by those who do not believe that cultural diffusion happened. Personally, I can’t say if this theory is accurate since I don’t know anyone who would have been alive back then. But it is likely that if Polynesians developed in any sort of isolation this would have occurred over shorter rather than extended periods of time, and perhaps only on remote islands. In any case, this would likely mark the time when localized regions such as Tahiti, Marquesas, Hawaii, and Easter Island would have established and developed their respective cultures, at the very least.

• 900CE– This time is the accepted time that the culture of the Maya began to decline. It is not known what caused this decline, but the abandonment of their cities and much of their cultural practices happened at this time. It is also important to remember that the Maya did not vanish into thin air; they simply dispersed and assimilated into other groups in the region. Maya bloodline is still very alive and well in present day Central America.

• 1595CE– I’ve included this date for the simple fact that evidence of contact between the Old World and Polynesia occurred at this time. To some, this marks the time when Polynesian culture became tainted by outside influence, specifically the introduction of monotheism and Christianity. This contact ultimately lead to the ending of the practice of tattoo as a cultural mainstay, however, the decline occurred during different times for each respective location.


I started out trying to connect Maya art and culture with Polynesian, and ended up going in an unexpectedly wonderful and enlightening direction. The possibility of some form of contact from Asia with the Americas and Polynesia some 5000 years ago, be it by land bridge or ship, seems highly likely. Even if by accident, say a lost fishing vessel or maybe a fleet of several boats, it is easy to see by this graphic of ocean currents how an Asian boat could simply be taken by North Pacific Gyre to the coast of North America, then south via the California Current and end up in Central America. It is also easy to imagine that any attempt to return to Asia would be a simple matter of catching the North Equatorial Current as opposed to trying to fight their way back through the North Pacific Current, especially during harsh conditions such as it is during the wintertime.

Ocean currents in the Pacific

Ocean currents in the Pacific

Of course it is impossible to speak about the mindset of ancient man, but it is highly probable that migration patterns of birds were paid close attention to, and it could have happened that the Sooty Shearwater, a bird that travels thousands of miles during it migration and is ubiquitous in the Pacific, was used for just that. Here are the patterns of 19 birds that were monitored recently by scientists tracking migration. When the Shearwater makes its yearly Pacific journey, there are thousands upon thousands of birds filling the sky.

Tracked migration of 19 Sooty Shearwater (2014)

Tracked migration of 19 Sooty Shearwater (2014)

Back to the Maya

As it turns out, there was quite a bit of cultural similarities between the Maya and Polynesians, not even accounting for their artwork.

For example:
• Both had highly stratified societies, with ruling/elite class, a specialized class (priests, craftsman, soldiers) and a common class (general population).

• Both engaged in bloodletting (personal blood sacrifice), human sacrifice and cannibalism.

• Both referred to the passage of time by nights, not by days.

• Both built ocean going canoes with sails.

• Both used the stars to navigate.

• Both used feathers as a royal adornment and collected feathers to be used as currency. They both also penalized anyone that killed prized birds for their plumage, with death.

• Both used conch shells as trumpets to call gatherings, for ceremony and for war.

• Both made textiles from tree bark and fronds.

• Both created idols (tiki) by stone sculpture or wood carving.

• Both were polytheistic and had specific gods for certain seasons.

• Both believed that all things, living and dead, animate and inanimate was connected by and imbued with an unseen power (mana).

• While the Maya built elaborate temples (pyramids) for worship and sacrifice, the Polynesians built heiau, which although not nearly grand or complex, served the same purpose. It may have been that the resources and technical knowledge were insufficient to create similar buildings, but one wonders about the possibility since the basic shape of both heiau and pyramid are so similar.

• In regards to art, both used geometric and interlaced patterns (as did the Chinese).

• Both practiced tattoo as a rite, although Maya tattoo was performed with incision, just like the Maori.

• Tattoo for men differed from the female, in that men were tattooed more heavily all over were as women were tattooed more delicately in specific areas.

• Both created zoomorphic art (representing animal forms or gods of animal form).

• Both created images with dual plane reflection. For example the image of a face is constructed with various sub elements that allow the image to be viewed head on as a single entity but if that entire image was to be cut in half (vertically) it would then reflect the side view, or profile of that image as well. This duality was also a common shared trait between cultures and is intended to allow the artwork to be in two states simultaneously (looking forward while looking to the sides) as a way to describe omnipotence or clairvoyance.

• Both considered darkness (the color and the absence of light) to be where the gods dwelt. The color used in tattoo pigment was considered to be that analog.

• Both considered jade and jadeite a very sacred material. In fact, the Maya glyph for jade was the same as the glyph for water.

• Both considered the world (the realm of the living) to have multiple layers of existence.

• Both utilized dancing as a part of religious observation as well as celebration.

These are just some of the most striking similarities that I found between the Maya and Polynesians. If you consider that a lot of their cultural practices could have originated from Asia via China, the possibility of a sustained contact becomes very real. Take a look at Chinese art from the Shang or Zhou Dynasties and compare it to art from the Maya and Polynesians and come to your own conclusions!


Back to what started it all: The mata hoata.

I’ll leave it up to the reader to draw his or her own conclusions as to what did or did not happen in regards to Asian influence of Mesoamerican and Polynesian art. I can only say that the mata hoata, with its sophisticated construction and purpose, appears to have originated not in Polynesia, but in Asia. And while the resemblance is not exact, the layout and shape are what I feel correlates both. Artistic license and use of materials would factor in with the evolution of the design, ensuring a unique result while still retaining the integrity of the original piece.

Here is an example of a bronze ceremonial axe from the Shang Dynasty. It was a common practice for Marquesans to place similar designs on weapons and canoe paddles. By doing this, the object was given ‘life’ so to speak and was considered a living organism thereafter. Next to the axe is one of many mata hoata designs used by the Marquesans.

Shang Dynasty ceremonial axe

Shang Dynasty ceremonial axe


Mata hoata

Mata hoata without mouth, showing separate design elements

Here are 3 illustrated examples of Shang Taotie masks. Fierce animals often depicting claws, horns, tails and legs, in a horizontal layout rendered in dual plane reflection, inspired Taotie design. The name ‘Taotie’ was not what it was originally known as, but was given to the design by scholars. It was said that the Taotie animals were very voracious, and therefore the Chinese character for Taotie contained the character for ‘eat’. The purpose of the mata hoata, when rendered with teeth, was to protect by eating or biting down on any potential threat.

Taotie mask illustration

Taotie mask illustration

Taotie mask showing breakdown of design elements

Taotie mask showing breakdown of design elements

Taotie mask illustration

Taotie mask illustration

To further the point of possible artistic cross-cultural pollination, here we see Chinese clan insignia found on bronze cast vessels from the Zhou Dynasty. These images depicted the owner of the vessel, the maker of the vessel or a venerated person. Next are a few Hawaiian petroglyphs found here on the Big Island, depicting a man or warrior of great importance. These petroglyphs are thought to be between 300-1000 years old. The Chinese insignia and Hawaiian petroglyphs appear to be identical in shape and form.

Chinese insignia found on cast or sculpted vessel

Chinese insignia found on cast or sculpted vessel

Chinese insignia found on cast or sculpted vessel

Chinese insignia found on cast or sculpted vessel

Hawaiian petroglyph rendered between 300-1000 years ago

Hawaiian petroglyph rendered between 300-1000 years ago

Hawaiian petroglyph rendered between 300-1000 years ago

Hawaiian petroglyphs rendered between 300-1000 years ago

As you can see, the further back in time you travel, the more murky things become as they also become clearer. This paradox, although at times hard to comprehend, seems to fit perfectly with what we know about human nature.

I would also like to point out that the theory of Asian contact with Mesoamerica is not new. Many have tried to connect the two cultures, and by looking at their respective art, it is easy to see why. Interestingly enough is the fact that none (that I know of) have attempted to make this correlation of Old World and New World while including Polynesia in the mix. Polynesia, I believe, was more of a highway than a destination. The islands were essentially refueling stations for provisions and construction materials, inhabited (initially) by people opting to stay rather than venture further eastward or westward, essentially creating an area of converging ethnicities; a melting pot. Modern Polynesia is still considered to be a melting pot, and I think this characteristic is intrinsic to the definition of the area, and not an extraneous consequence of settlement.

Now, onto my Zen…

What I realized while writing my book was somewhat of an epiphany, and pretty much defined me as both an artist and a human being: I live for the journey; that is where I find my Zen. I love meeting people that come into my shop, hearing their stories and then coming up with a tattoo that is unique to them. I love researching. Uncovering the complexities and intricacies of the past. When I played music, I loved being in the studio, creating while simultaneously uncovering a piece of music that I thought I already understood. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy having a nice piece for my portfolio, a finished book, a completed song or painting. But I find true happiness in getting there; the end product is simply a wonderful artifact of that process, that journey.

One last thing to mention before I go, is that while doing all of this research, comparing art of the ancients; trying to understand the reasoning behind certain motifs and styles, it dawned on me that despite all of our technology and progress and evolution, we are really just like our ancestors. We adorn our bodies with the same patterns, shapes, designs, motifs and subject matter that our ancestors found appealing. A mata hoata motif is highly specialized; it can represent a god or a deified ancestor. It is, in essence, the face of someone worthy of high regard, much like a modern day portrait tattoo.

Cavemen painted animals on the walls of their dwellings: Bison, deer, antelope, birds, fish. Half of the tattoos that I do are animal related. Tattoos were not only a class distinction or a rite of passage; they were a form of communication, perhaps one of mankind’s first. When a caveman killed a mountain lion, perhaps getting clawed by the animal in the process, those marks were a temporary testament to his strength and bravery. But what if he fell asleep with a full belly, next to his fire, and awoke the next day to find that he had rolled in some of the ashes, and that the carbon got into his healing claw marks? Once that wound healed, he would have permanent black lines on his arm, attesting to his power and manliness. This is what I believe inspired the practice of tattoo.

And everyone knows cave chicks dig scar tattoos. 😉

I hope you enjoyed the read and thank you for your time.

Aloha and peace!




David Adamson, The Ruins of Time: Four and a half centuries of conquest and discovery among the Maya, (New York 1975)
E. Beaglehole, Man, Vol. 37 (1937)
Elizabeth P. Benson, The Maya World (New York 1967)
Norman Hammond, Ancient Maya Civilization (New Jersey 1982)
Sylvanus Morley, George Brainherd and Robert Sharer, The Ancient Maya, (1946, 1947, 1956, 1983)
Gene Stuart and George Stuart, Lost Kingdoms of the Maya, National Geographic Society (1983)


kane_bd 10590697_10204863204361570_1296974058169257576_n

This client wanted a piece that could be added to at a latter date, one that reflected his new direction in life while combining elements of his family lineage, past occupation and love of music. I included a protection motif, as such things are an intrinsic aspect of Polynesian tattoo to a greater or lesser degree.

The breakdown of the piece is as follows:

a) Koru with kape and pakura elements- The koru is a Maori motif and has several meanings but are generally meant to convey life, breath or new beginnings. In this case it represents this person’s new direction in life.
The line elements in the tattoo represent a non-curved variation of pakura, or footprints of the swamp hen. They are simply meant to connect the tattoo and are also placed on the outside of koru.
The circular motifs  on the outside of the koru are called, kape and represent eyebrows/lashes. This symbol represents beauty, attention, and intelligence.

b) Mata hoata- All seeing eye motif is done in profile in this tattoo. The nose can be seen at the bottom of this motif, moving upward we can see the eye as the principle element. At the bottom there are a row of niho. The entire motif is to look out for danger; to protect him from threats when his attention may be elsewhere.

c) Koru with pakura

d) Ipu- Container of mana, the universe. Ipu are containers that store mana (power) but also represent the female uterus vis a vis creation. It is used to show the creation of all things and therefore is synonymous with the universe. The ipu in this sense represents his creation of music.

e) Ama kopeka- Fire. This speaks of his past as a firefighter. The flame also represents illumination and is also a symbol of defiance when used with vai meama.

f) Niho- Teeth. These symbols are spread throughout this piece and all are done in Fibonacci sequence to represent the mana inherent in everything in nature. They are a protective as well as warrior motif.

g) Unaunahi- Fish scales. This Maori symbol was used a lot in woodcarving and represents fish scales which themselves represent abundance (of food) or bounty. In this tattoo there are 4 scales, each representing a member of his family that are healers (nurses, doctors, etc.).

h) Koru with pakura.

Looking forward to adding to this beast!

I hope you enjoyed the breakdown. Peace and aloha!

10406391_10204268820182337_4430033305149929402_n eric_bd

I did this traditional Marquesan upper arm piece today on a gentleman that wanted to show his love for his two daughters as well as his love for the sea and fishing. There is also several protection motifs; mata hoata and hope vehine. He is planning on adding to it on his next visit and so is looking forward to returning here to Hawaii.

Breakdown of motifs is as follows:

a) Ani ata- sky or heavens, essentially heaven or where the sky and water meet. Represents his ancestors looking over him, providing spiritual protection and power (mana)
b) Pahoe- this is one of his daughters
c) Hope Vehine- the dark ‘c’ shaped motif is an analog to the turtle shell and is for protection
d) I’ima-hand, this motif holds the entire tattoo to the body
e) Pahoe- this is his other daughter
f) Ipu oto, vessel/gourd/bowl, this motif is a container analog representing a vessel to contain mana or spiritual power. It is also representative of the universe.
g) Tai- the sea, in this case a wave
h) Mekau- fish hook, because he likes to fish
i) Mata hoata- all seeing eye. This is an analog to a face with eyes, nose and mouth (j). The purpose of this motif is to act as a surrogate; it watches out for potential danger and is in a sense, clairvoyant. This one is different because I placed another set of eyes parallel with the nose so that it can see danger from all angles, forward/backward, up/down. The row of niho, or teeth (j) acts as its mouth and is intended to stop any threat by biting down on it.


Alright. I’m done yammering on about this book. It is finally finished, proofed and officially for sale on! Woot!
The official release will be at the Polynesian Ink and Art Expo on Oahu (@ the Blaisdell Center), August 2-4. I will be selling signed and personalized copies at my booth (Xisle Custom tattoo) which will be next to the Fusion Ink booth.
I busted my hump for 2+ years researching and writing this thing, pretty much non-stop, meaning no social life and hardly any time for myself, but it was worth it. 🙂
I hope people enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed making it. Aloha! Roland

This foot piece is about this person moving forward, entering another chapter in her life. It is also to protect her on her new journey, wherever that may lead.
The overall shape of the two paka are in the shape of a wave, intending to symbolize change and power. The breakdown of the symbols are as follows:

a- Ama kopeka= billowing flame. Intended to guide her way forward and illuminate that which may not be so easily seen.

b- Hala, Ano, Mua= past, present and future represented by three waves, inset with bands in Fibonacci Sequence. This is essentially her forward movement through time. The flowers over the present wave symbolize the beauty of the present moment and a reminder to always enjoy it.

c- Kaake= upraised arm, this motif symbolizes strength and generosity. It is also used to convey movement such as from one place to another or to fly away (she is moving off island).

d- Koru= fernhead, this Maori motif represents the cycle of life as well as new beginnings.

e- Mata=eye, this symbol is to keep an eye out, to see danger before it happens.

f- Etua= godling, this symbol is fortifies the strength of the tattoo and protects the motifs.

g- Hiku atu= bonito tails, this symbol is to impart speed and to assist her in the water to ensure that she is always safe when in the sea.

h- Iima=hand, these are divine hands that hold fast to her and the motif. They symbolize giving and possession and are intended to fortify the tattoo.



Here is the link to my Kickstarter project. Part of the process is getting the word out, so that is what I am doing. If anyone has time to give it a look, please do!
This book is a dream of mine and I realize that it is a long shot, but had to try and give it a go.
Aloha and thank you for your time!


The Legend of Kena

Marquesan legend surrounding the exploits of one of that cultures most revered heroes, Kena, is embodied by a motif of the hero in his bath. Whenever I see someone tattooed with this motif, which is almost always buried in the intricacies of what we have come to regard as modern ‘Polynesian’ tattoo, I always ask them to tell me the meaning of the symbol. I have heard it described as a flower, turtle, and star. The wearer of this motif was most likely told by the tattoo artist, the meaning of the symbol, so the misunderstanding is not entirely the wearer’s fault.

Kena, who became a hero because of his strength, courage, tenacity and ultimately his wit, is almost always included in traditional Marquesan tattoo. Like the twin Samoan goddesses of tattoo, Tilafaiga and Taema, Kena has earned his name by his association with tattoo. Of course his legend is one of fantastic drama and strife–as is a great deal of Polynesian lore–but in the end, his story concludes with the death of the hero by his own design. I believe that it is this duality of being both brave and fearless, while also succumbing to the indiscretions of mortal behavior, that has established his position as perhaps the most celebrated of Marquesan heroes.

His legend is as follows:

The mortal hero, chief of Hivaoa, Te Aa leads an expedition to Havai’i, the underworld, to battle the ruler of Havai’i, Tu Tonga. At the end of the battle, Tu Tonga presents Te Aa with his two sisters, who become the wives of Te Aa’s companions.

Te Aa becomes trapped in the underworld, but his two companions and their supernatural wives manage to escape and return to Hivaoa. One wife gives birth to Kena while the other gives birth to Tefio.

When Kena and Tefio grow older, they marry one another.

The marriage goes bad because Kena is addicted to surfing. After 10 days of continuous surfing Kena begins to rot and becomes covered with sea growths and stench. Tefio, who warned him against surfing, leaves him and marries another man, Toee.

Undeterred, Kena prepares two freshwater, stone-lined bathing pools, one upstream from the other, with a small connecting stream in between them.

Later, Kena hears that the two sons of a neighboring chief are being tattooed. Using supernatural means, he hijacks the ceremony to ensure that he is tattooed first and that he has the best designs. After being tattooed he returns home to his mother, and lightning is seen to shoot from his armpits. His mother tells him not to do that because he will cause his cousin to collapse in fright. Kena then attends the feast at which the newly tattooed display themselves, which is also attended by Tefio and her new husband. Tefio falls in love with Kena again and they plan to elope.

They communicate via the channel connecting the two streams; Kean drops his lei in the stream, it floats down and Tefio retrieves it. Later they meet to have a tryst but cannot make love because they are ‘disturbed’. This happens again and again until Tefio becomes ill and sings her funeral lament.

She finally dies from ‘woman cramps’. Kena mourns her.

Later, after many other adventures, Kena returns to Havai’i to meet with Tu Tonga, his mother’s brother. He battles with Tu Tonga and breaks the ruler’s teeth so that he can no longer eat men. Kena then becomes beguiled by the sight of certain cockroach-women in the underworld, falls into a deep pit and dies. (VDS) (p. 186-7)

Kena, it seems, is a doomed soul before he is even born. His relation to the Po (the darkness, the place where god dwell and ancestors linger, the seat of all creation), and his connection to Tu Tonga, are all indications that the fate of this individual can only end badly.

However, during his life he excelled at being mortal. Surfing, upsetting the wife, thievery, romance, revenge and deception, are all relatable facets of the human condition. So while he may possess divine blood, his actions, more or less, define him as a typical, flawed mortal.

Perhaps that is why he was such an important figure? If you think about it, such tales of mortal/divine hybrids, succumbing to their own wanton mortal shortcomings is a common theme throughout history.

In the end, Kena is ‘beguiled’ by cockroach-women, then falls into a deep pit and dies. Perhaps speaking of his intrinsic tie to the underworld and the fact that no matter how hard he tried to rise above his cursed origins, he could never seem to pull it off.

Getting back to the symbol of Kena, unlike many of the other Marquesan heroes depicted in tattoo(which are merely etua-like symbols that are referred to as a hero or heroes) his image is always comprised of Kena in his bath.

It is in his bath that Kena concocts his plot to win his wife back and is also where he is denied ‘re-consummating’ his love/marriage for/to her. It is the place where he realizes his dreams as well as his failures. In that space, the bath is akin to the Schrodinger’s cat thought experiment, a place where his dreams spring to life, but also where they go to die.

The image ‘b’ is the most simplistic rendition of Kena in his bath. He is the small T at the center of the enclosure. As the motif evolves, it gains embellishment to such a degree that it becomes abstract.

One thing about Marquesan tattoo that is gender specific, is how to view any given motif, although this mainly applies to etua (godliness) and kea (turtles). When placed on a male, the motif should be viewed as if the bottom of the symbol rests on the horizontal plane, so that you view the object as if it were facing you. When placed on a female, the horizontal plane shifts so that you are now viewing the object from the top. That is how the etua (male) becomes a kea (female) while outwardly looking completely identical. It is this plane shift that causes one symbol to become another.

I mention this only because Vai-o-Kena is to be viewed as if he is in his bath, facing the observer. In ‘b’ this is fairly obvious, but as the motif evolves it becomes less so, which is why it is so often misinterpreted.

Aloha and peace!

Ana’ole, mother and sons, to honor his wife and two boys. Pretty straight forward execution of a ki’i of his wife and two boys. The mother has her arms around her boys, protecting them as well as nurturing them. Her arms are tattooed with paka and koru. On her hands are poi’i which symbolize her as provider of both food and prosperity. The boys are wearing warrior helmets and have the warrior tattoos on their faces, koko ata, one of the only true warrior symbols.
We did the lining yesterday and finished the shading today.
woo hoo!

This pleasant fellow and his family stopped into the shop, day before yesterday, wanting a tattoo. He told me that he wanted some Poly, but was unsure as to what, so then just asked me to come up with something. He said whatever it was it had to be badass.
This is what I came up with. I decided to create something dedicated to himself and his family. I decided not to make the piece 3 dimensional, with added shading. I wanted it to be as close to traditional Poly (which does not have any shading), but be predominantly ana’ole style.
Starting at the bottom, there are two opposing ipo oto (inside of calabash) which are symbols of strength. Next, toward the front of his bicep, are the tiki of his wife and daughter. His wife’s tiki (the larger of the two)  is inset with a poi’i, a small shellfish that contains mother-of-pearl (I’ll be posting a write-up on the poi’i on my blog as soon as I have the time).His daugther’s tiki is inset with the poka’a, a symbol of strength. The large tiki on top, is the representation of the pleasant fellow, looking not so pleasant as badass.
The symbol in the center is actually two symbols. The bottom half of the circle is an etua, or divine representation of, his wife and daughter’s love and support of him; essentially his foundation. The upper half of the circle is the sun (la), which is rising. This symbolizes his commitment to them as a father and provider. The two parts act as one and perpetuate the other.
At the back of his arm are several palm fronds set with niho in Fibonacci sequence.

Aloha and peace!